“Is that your dog?” the woman gushed. Rufus had worked his magic, drawing the stranger into his swirling vortex of feverish anxiety. He was constantly recruiting strangers as therapists.
“I’m so sorry! I was just dropping off a library book. Can’t leave him alone for five minutes. Separation anxiety.”
Howling and running around in circles, Rufus was wrapped around the pole, almost strangling himself.
Yet, Rufus was a survivor. It’s not often that an Old English Sheepdog ends up at the pound.
Then again, I’d never heard of one called “Loopy” before.
That’s why we called him Rufus.
March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered.
This flash was based on our Old English Sheepdog, Rufus, who has subsequently crossed over the rainbow bridge.
Not long after we got married and moved into our own place, Geoff and I brought Zorro, a pure-bred Border Collie, home from the pound. This was before we had kids and as newlyweds, Zorro became our surrogate child. I was working 3 days a week as well as renovating our house: painting rooms, making curtains and completely overhauling the garden. Just like a much loved only child, Zorro went everywhere with us. Moreover, just like so many parents, we loved our one dog soooo much, we thought about getting another…No. 2…a friend for Zorro…a sibling!
I had already been reading the dog ads in the local paper like a desperado glued to the personals. That was how I found out about the Old English Sheepdog at the pound…Loopy.
Thrilled, I dragged Geoff up there at break neck speed before we missed out. I’d never thought about owning my own Old English Sheepdog They’re so cute!!!
Anyway, when we arrived at the pound, things with this Old English Sheepdog weren’t so good. He had severe eczema, was severely underweight and malnourished and had just been returned to the RSPCA for chasing cats. The dog was also called Loopy, which I thought was a bit inappropriate for an Old English Sheepdog. So, that name should have set off alarm bells as well. Loopy was loopy and changing his name was never going to stop that.
Obviously, this was no glowing report card and although some alarm bells went off, all I remember hearing was: “POTENTIAL”. Just sort out his skin, fatten him up and we’d have a great dog. If you have ever been duped by the words “renovator’s dream”, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.
We went home to think about it. Went back with Zorro and they got on alright and we arrived home with Rufus, the re-badged Loopy, in tow.
The next day when I went to work, we left Rufus on a running lead. Much to my horror, when I arrived home, Rufus was all but choking. He’d been walking round and round in circles and the clip had gotten caught up in his fur and he couldn’t move at all. I virtually had to perform surgery to cut him loose. Indeed, he was lucky he didn’t strangle himself.
This was just the beginning of his loopiness, or running round in circles so stressed that he looked possessed. Thunder storms were hell. We’d lock him in the house to keep him safe and then he’d run round and round our kitchen table in circles frothing at the mouth with his heart almost pounding out of his chest. We’d try to get him to sit and lie down and perhaps we should’ve looked into medication but I didn’t really think about medicating pets back then.
We knew absolutely nothing about rescue dogs. Indeed, we had not been warned that he had some really deep-seated issues and may not be suited to family life. That he wasn’t just a dog looking for a new home but was a rescue dog in the true sense of the word needing a lot of work, training and patience. We were about to start a family and in retrospect, getting a second dog wasn’t a bright idea in the first place. Then, I also developed my health/disability issues just to complicate matters further.
I know this has become “dobbing on Rufus day” but his emotional issues were just the tip of quite a deep ice berg. He’d jump up onto the kitchen bench stealing food, swallowing it plastic bag and all, no doubt doing dreadful damage to his stomach. Also, because his jaw didn’t quite meet, he’d end up slobbering and then shake his head and goop would fly across the room, splatting on the wall. Charming!! He also tried biting Geoff a few times…not good!
The two dogs accommodated each other better than Bilbo and Lady did at first. However, I couldn’t help feeling that Zorro was thinking: “What the heck have you done?” They were like the original Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple. Zorro was always neat and he almost looked like he was in a three-piece suit with his black and white fur. Rufus was a scruffy, dribbling rogue anarchist. Even at the beach, he took off after a sea gull and ran a couple of kilometres away in seconds. He seemed totally beyond management.
We are not dog rescue types and we had two kids during that time. It definitely wasn’t an easy time and I was also coming down with a debilitating Auto-Immune disease which was eating away my muscles.Under such grueling circumstances, why did we battle on with such a challenging dog when we could have walked away? Sent him back.
I don’t know. Being an eternal optimist, perhaps I kept hoping our efforts would work. Also, once we’d brought Rufus home and made him part of our family, we couldn’t send him back. That it didn’t matter whether a family member was human or canine. We couldn’t give up on him. Throw him out. After all, given his issues, it would be difficult for the RSPCA to re-home him. I couldn’t just lead him to the slaughterhouse.
Perhaps, if we’d known a suitable home for him, it would’ve been different but I certainly didn’t want to be him killed. We loved him. Perhaps not warts and all but despite all his issues, he was a fabulous dog!!
He was an extremely loving, affectionate dog with an exuberance and enthusiasm matching his anxiety…a tension between yin and yang.
The children adored Rufus and would climb all over him like a horse. He was beautiful with them..even when they pulled his fur.
He also had huge chocolate brown eyes and would look at you with such love and adoration. You were his world and you could throw your arms around him and he was so hugable.
We loved Rufus.
Then, one morning, we woke up and Rufus was lying on the back deck. He didn’t move. Didn’t respond when I called him. Rufus had passed away, crossing over the rainbow bridge.
A few days later, we welcomed Bilbo into our family. Being a pup, he was obviously much smaller than Rufus and our 2 year old son was quite upset. Wanted a big dog.
Bilbo grew up.
By the way, we have subsequently adopted Lady as a two year old dog. That adoption has gone really well.
What we have probably learned from our experience with Rufus is the importance of carefully matching dogs and humans. Not everyone is positioned to take on a rescue dog and people who are buying puppies also need to make sure they can handle the adult dog. Dogs really love their humans and it’s not fair to keep re-homing them. They’re a lifelong commitment.
Inevitably, thinking about how to respond to troubled or “broken” dogs, raises the whole question of people. If we send a dog back to the pound due to mental health and behavioural issues, what is that saying about people experiencing these challenges. That’s been front of mind while I’ve been writing this. This is, of course, a very complex issue but I have to believe that while love alone may not be enough to pull someone through, it certainly goes a long way. Yet, loving someone who is struggling, isn’t always easy or straightforward but we have to persevere. We also have to have faith and believe in ourselves as we struggle as well. Life and people are incredibly complex and diverse. Not something you can neatly sum up in a few words.
Somehow, my 99 word flash fiction has expanded into a psychological journey. One which I need to shut down at this point so I can get to bed.
Have you ever had a struggling rescue pet and how did it go?